Compass: Governor's inadequate response to Alaska National Guard sexual assault complaints

Questions remain as to why Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell waited almost four years to open an official investigation into 2010 Alaska National Guard chaplains' reports to him of sexual assaults of particular servicewomen in the guard.

This is an important issue for all Alaskans. The sexual assault epidemic within U.S. military ranks rages on. Congress adopted many improvements to the military justice system in the fiscal year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, but hesitated to pass bipartisan legislation that would address the core problem - that is, removing prosecution from the chain of command as provided for in the Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA, S. 967/H.R. 2016). The act would authorize an independent, specially trained and experienced prosecutor to handle these cases. Alaska Senate Joint Resolution 20, supporting the MJIA, languished in the Senate Rules Committee this year. And the U.S. Dept. of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office's (SAPRO) FY2013 survey found formal sexual assault complaints within military ranks increased 50 percent over the previous year.

Ethical men and women have good cause to care and attend to the work and cost of eradicating sexual assault in U.S. military workplaces. Victims are friends and cherished relatives. And as most military personnel live and work among us, our communities absorb the consequences of military sexual assault as well as the consequences of military commanders' unwillingness to prosecute their perpetrators.

The recent Alaska National Guard sexual assault scandal returned Alaskans' attention to our ongoing struggle with sexual violence against women. To recap, in an April 26, 2014 Anchorage Daily News commentary, columnist Shannyn Moore held Gov. Parnell to account for receiving reports of the Guard sexual assaults on Nov. 18, 2010 and waiting four years before initiating a formal investigation. Professional protocol for any sexual assault report generally calls for immediacy, confidentiality and safety for victims, and investigation, regardless of the amount of detail. The well-known, nationwide military sexual assault issue should have added impetus to the governor's sense of duty to investigate.

In his April 30 ADN defense, Gov. Parnell describes having an undated, general conversation with the Adjutant General about sexual assault allegations and the guard process. He contends this was an adequate response. Notably, since the complaint against him was his timing, his delay in response in 2010, it is odd the governor omitted the date of that contact in his defense. The only specific date mentioned in the response is Feb. 26, when Sen. Dyson managed to spur the governor to formally ask the National Guard Bureau chief to review all related investigations.

In her May 3 ADN follow-up, Ms. Moore stated, "I asked former Gov. Tony Knowles what he would have done in Parnell's place. He said: 'I wouldn't have let those chaplains off the phone until my attorney general had heard their story.'" Experts agree that would be natural and appropriate. However, in related published documents regarding the matter, Gov. Parnell has not mentioned his attorney general at the time, current Senate candidate Dan Sullivan. (Mr. Sullivan was reassigned, from attorney general to Dept. of Natural Resources commissioner, a few weeks after the chaplains' report. His last day as attorney general was December 5, 2010.) The Alaska Dept. of Natural Resources commissioner's website states, "(Dan Sullivan's) primary focus as Attorney General was to end Alaska's epidemic levels of sexual assault and domestic violence."

Questions remain unanswered. Therefore, on behalf of the victims in this matter, on June 4, Alaska NOW faxed and sent a certified-mail letter to the governor's office, requesting further information. Alaska NOW requested, "per the Alaska Public Records Act, copies of (documents) between you and then Attorney General Daniel Sullivan from November 18, 2010, or the first actual date of any report to you regarding sexual assault accusations within the Alaska National Guard, through Daniel Sullivan's last day as Attorney General, December 5, 2010." As of today, June 23, 2014, we have received no response from the governor's office.

Barbara McDaniel is president of the Alaska chapter of the National Organization for Women.